By Story and photos by Mikael Krummel

The land stands a couple feet above the surrounding Willamette and McKenzie River floodplain. Its boundaries are found in the same rich farm soil that attracted many of Oregon’s immigrants during the mid-1800s. The area is known as Luper Cemetery. It’s officially a fixture in Junction City, roughly a quarter mile north of Beacon Drive, slightly east of River Road in Eugene, and it is one of the oldest pioneer cemeteries in the southern Willamette Valley.

Luper’s burial sites date back to 1856. Many of the nearly 170 gravesites reflect the colorful history and impact of those early settlers. Their stories continue to hold authority today.

Luper’s marble and granite headstones frequently bear the etched names of individuals and families recognized as key historical Eugene-area residents: Newman, Baker, Aubrey, Mahlon, Harlow, Maxwell, and other familiar surnames associated with local streets and buildings. A row of family graves with another familiar name can be linked to Whiteaker neighborhood icon Sam Bond. The cluster of Corydon and Bushnell headstones includes James Bushnell, namesake and co-founder of Northwest Christian University, recently rebranded as Bushnell University.

Here’s a fascinating piece of Luper history: In 1853, a wagon train from the Midwest diverted from the Oregon Trail in an effort to find a shortcut through the Cascades to the Willamette Valley. The expedition became known as Oregon’s “1853 lost wagon train.” Many of the travelers starved and died—though more than a thousand of those explorers eventually found their way to the Eugene area. Their numbers doubled the population of Lane County, and 18 of those same folks secured their final resting place in Luper Cemetery.

Luper has generated notable yet limited special attention over recent years. It has served as a location for community service projects for high school students, college athletes, and Boy Scouts. Graduate degree studies have been inspired by the graveyard’s history. It’s even been a source of speculation—including a YouTube documentary—concerning hauntings and other paranormal phenomenon.

And for many local visitors, it serves as a popular and rewarding destination for simple day hikes, pet walks, and contemplation.